(Image: Private Media)
(Image: Private Media)

Yesterday Crikey published part one of a three-part series by Amber Schultz about the dominance of UK-founded Marie Stopes International in Australia’s abortion market. 

Here’s the tweet we posted about part one of the series:

Fairly innocuous. 

Seeking as big an audience as possible for this important series, we put some money behind it on Twitter Ads to promote it to more people — something we do fairly often on a different range of topics, so we didn’t think much of it. 

Then not long after we got a notification from Twitter Ads Support. Our paid promotion had been halted, it said. Upon querying further, we were told by support: “Our team manually reviewed your content and confirmed that it violates our Health and Pharmaceutical Products and Services policy.”

What?

Twitter’s policy states that it restricts the promotion of health and pharmaceutical products and services, including medical services such as abortion clinics… and abortion advocacy.

Abortion advocacy?! Access to safe abortion is a human right. The fact that one of the world’s largest social media platforms won’t let you pay to promote information around a medical procedure that is a basic healthcare need for millions of people around the world — one under threat in many regions, no less — is a little… off. 

The promotional tweet starts off by naming Marie Stopes International, Australia’s largest abortion provider, so it’s fairly clear that our ad was rejected, incorrectly, on the grounds of promoting abortion clinics rather than abortion advocacy.

Presumably, a moderation bot scoured the tweet, caught the name of an abortion provider and banned the promotion. Then someone in support “manually” checked it and somehow (perhaps because they were a customer support worker working in a country different to where this tweet was sent, who has little knowledge of the context of abortion in Australia and they wanted to play it safe) they upheld the rejection on those grounds. 

This kind of blanket moderation happens all the time on social media, especially when it comes to advertising — and hey, at least it’s a sign the platform isn’t just blindly taking money to promote any and all issues. And yes, it’s frustrating that the manual moderator didn’t take a little extra time to look at the tweet and realise it was an investigation into Marie Stopes International, not a paid ad for the abortion provider, but it’s probably just basic human error and someone with little time and context. In the end, all Twitter did was just not take our money — we still ran the Twitter spaces, had a great conversation, and the tweet and recording are still up on Twitter. 

We don’t want to make a censorship mountain out of a moderation molehill. When it comes down to it, this is just another example of a social media giant applying blanket rules to its already fairly murky content policies. 

But what is an issue here is that in Australia, important information about a medical procedure that also happens to be a human rights issue falls under an opaque blanket moderation system created in Silicon Valley.

Is abortion-related content getting prioritised right now because of the Supreme Court decision? How will that impact women’s access to information outside of the US? Would the same tweet investigating Pfizer, AstraZeneca, or another non-abortion-related health issue have been picked up by moderation? 

All important questions that Twitter’s health and pharmaceutical products and services don’t really have an answer to.

Anway, Crikey has published part two of Amber’s series today and we’re hosting another Twitter space on the topic as well. Amber will be talking about the dirty deal centred on medical abortion pill RU486 and why it is impossible to get it in Australia — you can listen here at 1pm AEST

We’re going to keep trying to promote this series on abortion, because we think it’s an important issue that should be heard. So this time, Twitter, please just take our money and let us talk about abortion with as many people as possible.

See how power works in this country.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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